County Executive candidate Lee Holloway
Lee Holloway is a controversial figure in Milwaukee County politics: he’s been a board supervisor, chairman of the board for three terms and even the temporary County Executive after Scott Walker left for the governor’s mansion. He speaks his mind, doesn’t take any guff and has a checkered relationship with the city of Milwaukee over rental properties he owns on the near north side.
But Holloway isn’t letting any of his critics scare him away from what could be the pinnacle of his political career – becoming the first elected African-American Milwaukee County Executive.
Holloway spoke with ThirdCoast Digest about his plans for the county, some of which he’s already implemented (or attempted to implement) while serving in his temporary capacity.
Q: Milwaukee County is facing a massive budget hole and looming fiscal crisis. What is your fiscal plan for Milwaukee County, including spending cuts, tax policy and transit funding?
“The only way out of this fiscal crisis is to manage our way out,” Holloway said.
He plans to manage the county’s resources better and develop new assets to make the most of the tax base and tap into federal dollars currently not coming into the community. Holloway pointed to cooperative efforts he has developed, including partnerships with the cities of Cudahy and West Allis to purchase technology services from the county; a $15 million fund to attract businesses with less than 50 employees to locate within the county and a purchasing cooperative with the cities and schools to lower costs.
As for transit, Holloway attempted last week to have the rental car tax collected by the dormant Southeastern Regional Transit Authority redirected to the Milwaukee County Transit System. The proposal did not make it past a county board committee to move onto the legislature, but Holloway is not deterred.
“I’m a progressive and I will keep on trying.”
Holloway’s plan for county mental health care is to follow the proposals of the Public Policy Forum’s Transforming the Adult Mental Health Care Delivery System in Milwaukee County, which calls for 16-bed community-based treatment facilities. Moving to that type of treatment would allow the county to tap into $400 million in federal funding that could save county taxpayers.
Holloway also appointed a new administrator for the Behavioral Health department, Michael Thomas, a former mental health worker for the county. After 35 years working in the field he wanted to come home and was willing to take the lower pay Milwaukee County was offering. However, Holloway said the board oversight committee voted against Thomas, noting the pay rate was still too high.
“It is hard to find quality leadership in this field due to the low pay,” Holloway said. “But the board is hostile toward me and Thomas. They are hurting our progress.”
Q: There have been suggestions to disband county government or trim its reach. What is your opinion of the role of county government?
Holloway is fully on board with the idea and scope of county government, even referring to it as “a mother to provide services to the municipalities.” He describes the model of county government as being more efficient and economically sound. He even takes credit for leading the board in downsizing itself from 25 supervisors to 19 in 2007.
“If we weren’t here they (citizens of the municipalities) would see their taxes go up. I won’t let that happen.”
Q: Why should the citizens of Milwaukee vote for you and what are your qualifications to be the administrator of a $1.3 billion enterprise?
“I am the only candidate with the experience and foresight to be County Executive. I am bright and intelligent and have over 16 years of government experience,” Holloway said.
He cited examples of his work to save the county taxpayers money: creating the General Assistance Medical Program, which he claims has saved $230 million in health care costs (the program has since been replaced by BadgerCare); investing a portion of the county pension fund into the stock market with a return of 22 percent; and creating a master plan to save mental health costs and leverage federal dollars.
Q: Your decision to fire-high level county employees while temporarily serving as the county executive, your previous volatile rhetoric towards other political leaders and the questions concerning your management of rental properties have given opponents talking points against you. How do you answer to those charges and what will you do differently?
While he didn’t talk about the employees or comments toward other politicians, he was open about the problems with his properties and the numerous calls to police from his tenants.
Milwaukee Police have visited Holloway-owned properties 863 times over two years. Holloway is not concerned, instead pleased that people are turning to the police to help solve their problems.
“Over 800 calls are better than shootings or a murder, ” he said. “These are poor people with problems and this shows they’re working them out.”
As for the condition of his properties: “The city, state and county are all in a hole, so I’m in good company,” Holloway said, explaining that his tenants are poor or out of work and he is not getting the revenue flow needed to keep up with maintenance.
He said that 90 percent of the violations are for lack of storm windows and loose trim. However, city records show citations for rodent infestations, leaking pipes, faulty lighting, handrails and moldy walls.
“But I’m still afloat and I’m still providing living space for the people in my community.”
Holloway said he is not familiar with the details of the case against a security guard accused of harassing a tenant. “He was an independent contractor and he is liable for this. This is not on me.”
These code violations may not worry Holloway, but they have raised the concern of some blocks of voters and continue to make headlines. Holloway will need to ensure that his message – that he can effectively lead the county – can overcome the negative press his property woes have raised. He has a one more week to find out.
Lee Holloway will appear on the Feb. 15 primary ballot, along with Chris Abele, Ieshuh Griffin, Jim Sullivan and Jeff Stone. The top two vote-getters will move on to the County Executive general election on April 5.